Submission: Review of the Benchmarks for Industry-based Customer Dispute Resolution Schemes

Consumer Action has made a submission to the Commonwealth Consumer Affairs Advisory Council review of the benchmarks for industry dispute resolution schemes.

In broad terms, we strongly support the benchmarks and notes that they have stood the test of time by providing for strong foundations for many External Dispute Resolution schemes in Australia. Importantly, the benchmarks have contributed to efficient and fair redress for many thousands (if not, millions) of consumers who would not have been able to resolve disputes through courts or tribunals. We do not think that the benchmarks are in need of major overhaul, but believe that they can be improved as outlined in this submission.

Briefly, this submission makes the following comments:

  • in regards to the accessibility benchmark: considers that accessibility must remain a central consideration, access to schemes must remain free to consumers, informal and easy to navigate. In particular, the benchmarks should not require complaints to be made in writing and should require schemes to promote themselves, particularly through members of the schemes;
  • we do not support further measures to discourage legal representation at EDR schemes;
  • in regards to the fairness benchmark:
    • the scope of the benchmark should be considerably broadened beyond simply making fair decisions to addressing power imbalances between complainants and industry;
    • the fairness benchmark should also be amended to provide more guidance for schemes to require members to produce information relevant to a dispute, and
    • it is important that EDR schemes retain the ability to decide disputes taking into account not only the law but what is fair and reasonable in the circumstances and good industry practice;
  • regarding the accountability benchmark, we have recommended the benchmarks give more guidance on:
    • handling systemic issues; and
    • providing reasons for decisions.
  • regarding the efficiency benchmark, while we welcome requirements for schemes to consider their own performance, they should also look at what is driving demand for the scheme and how demand can be reduced, particularly systemic issues;
  • regarding the effectiveness benchmark, we have suggested that schemes could monitor effectiveness by following up on a certain number of cases to monitor how effective their involvement was in addressing complaints; and
  • we support comments by the Australia and New Zealand Ombudsman Association (ANZOA) that it is undesirable to have more than one ombudsman scheme operating in a single industry.

To read our full submission click: Review of the Benchmarks for Industry-based Customer Dispute Resolution Schemes.

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